When the habit-wearing demon of the title actually shows up onscreen, The Nun II briefly becomes entertaining, if not quite coherent, as her power set appears near-infinite. Hitching a ride across Europe inside the body of a French groundskeeper named Maurice (a returning Jonas Bloquet), she’s by no means corporeally confined, breaking free with some regularity to strangle children and set priests on fire, while sending scary visions across hundreds of miles to her returning arch-nemesis, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga).
That might make the movie sound a lot more fun than it is, so let’s be clear: Valak the evil nun from Hell (Bonnie Aarons) doesn’t actually get much screen time. Serving a stupendously misguided story structure, the script keeps her and Irene separate for two thirds of the movie—Demián Bichir’s Father Burke died
on the way back to his home planet of cholera between films—forcing us to spend time with young students we don’t really care about at a girls’ school, and to watch Irene’s bonding with colleague Sister Debra (Storm Reid), whose key character trait is she can’t literally believe the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. The plot, of course, will ultimately hinge upon this exact point.
There’s nothing wrong with introducing irritatingly bland characters in a horror sequel, so long as they die. Unfortunately, the body count stays relatively low, with Valak’s standards for who gets murdered—and who just gets messed with—entirely inconsistent. Conjuring franchise veteran Michael Chaves (The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, The Curse Of La Llorona) can’t seem to decide if he’s making elevated horror, where you can get away with just scaring people, or exploitation cinema, where the kills are a big part of the appeal. Spoiler: it ought to be the latter, though he doesn’t know it or lean into it enough to make silly touches like a demonic goat man charging down a hallway on all fours into anything but unintended camp.
In one particularly odd attempt at a scare, Sister Irene is terrified by a magazine stand, where the pages start to flutter on their own. Assuming this film is aimed at least somewhat at older teens, their reaction may well be something more akin to, “What’s a magazine stand?” than, “Will those pages eventually form a mildly scary collage of a nun?” (Duh.) Screenwriter Akela Cooper usually understands the right trashy tone to take with this stuff, having previously given us Malignant and M3GAN, so she must not have had anything close to a final say here.
The original The Nun stood out among its Conjuring brethren for being an unapologetic monster movie in a franchise and cinematic era of unseen spirits bumping in the night. Like Freddy, Pinhead, or Chucky, Valak has an instantly distinctive look, and her frightening stare was worth everything they ought to be paying Bonnie Aarons. The character’s gender remains mildly unclear—the demon Valak is referred to as male, but its form as the Nun is definitely female and played by an actress, and as such, is a rare horror icon-in-the-making who isn’t a guy, at least usually. She now has one thing in common with the boys’ club, though ... all of them have had to suffer at least one mediocre sequel.
The similar The Pope’s Exorcist, released earlier this year, wasn’t particularly a great movie, but it was self aware enough to create some memorable moments. However unlikely it may sound, The Nun II makes one pine for Russell Crowe’s Gabriel Amorth to show up and start yelling at Valak in his Super Mario accent. Never mind if he’s convincing or not; he’s at least more compelling than Generic Cute Teacher Lady, or Smiling Daughter Nicknamed “Captain” For Some Reason. At times some of the scenes in the girls’ school seem to be setting up a junior version of Mean Girls, but they never distinguish any of the kids in any interesting way. One has more of a French accent than the rest, and that’s about it.
On the 4K commentary track for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Chris Miller and Phil Lord note that a story sweet spot is to let the audience figure things out for themselves, then right as they do, offer them a detail that confirms what they thought. Michael Chaves overdoes this, by keeping his movie about 30 minutes behind the audience. At least the jump scares are effective, especially in IMAX theaters where the headrests rumble every time Valak makes a sudden move. That, and a couple of decent makeup tricks are pretty much all The Nun II has. The character deserves better, and so do you.
The Nun II opens in theaters September 8